The NSW government will provide additional support for people who are suffering asbestos-related illnesses linked to building materials firm James Hardie Industries.
Exposure to asbestos causes a range of health problems, including serious lung diseases such as mesothelioma and silicosis. James Hardie Industries formed the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF) in 2006 to provide money for victims who contracted these illnesses due to the company’s products.
Under an agreement with the NSW government, the enterprise pays 35 per cent of its annual operating cashflow towards the fund.
However, the organisation recently complained that the payouts are far exceeding the money available in the AICF. A spike in mesothelioma cases was highlighted as a significant contributing factor.
As such, James Hardie announced it may need to consider paying compensation in instalments. Campaign groups criticised the approach, and the NSW government has now expanded a loan facility in order to prevent the move.
One of the problems with instalments is that mesothelioma sufferers often die just months after the initial diagnosis. Therefore, they are unlikely to benefit from compensation unless it is paid in a lump sum.
“As a consequence of the amendments, [the AICF] expects that the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund can continue to pay claims in full, as they fall due,” James Hardie? Industries said in a statement on February 27.
Changes to the AICF
Previously, the terms of the loan only allowed James Hardie to drawn down on $214 million, but this has been adjusted to $320 million.
The NSW government removed the re-insurance recoveries cap that had previously prevented James Hardie from borrowing the full $320 million that was approved under the scheme.
NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance told the Australian Associated Press that the money is invaluable to people with asbestos-related diseases and their families.
“While funding the compensation of asbestos victims is morally the responsibility of James Hardie, we are not willing to let a situation arise where those suffering do not get full and up-front payments,” he explained.
The fund is available to people in all states and territories, with approximately 45 per cent going towards NSW residents. However, NSW Premier Mike Baird has written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott to urge the Australian, state and territory governments to share the financial burden of supporting asbestos victims outside of NSW.